Chief Creative Insurgent of MDC companies declares cars dumb in the article, Why Are Our Cars So Dumb, where he seems to suggest the solution to America’s automotive woes rests with serving our basic human needs to move, connect and share. And he still admires Henry Ford as bellwether of human progress and urban development, and admits to owning a very nice car with simulated walnut panels.
Ok, I agree with much of what he says in terms of Americas jaded romance with the faux promise of the motorcar: the false freedom of a consequence-free love affair with no longer open roads. But his argument aquaplanes into the ditch when it comes to his proposed solution to our problems: a more personal and connected motorcar.
I believe the problems are a great deal bigger than the iceberg tip we’re presented with. And the innovations, ideas and vision needed to get to a better place must be a great deal bigger than ride-sharing, a free bicycle with every car, plus a bit of social media integration.
Let’s start with the problems: congestion, air quality, reliance on fossil fuels, oil spills. On any American street, or along any highway or parkway you see a similar scene: big cars with one lonely passenger, rolling forward in agonizingly brief spurts, fender to fender, like the queue for the restroom at halftime at the college football game - with too many beers consumed by all simulating the urgency and frustration of rush hour. Except perhaps on weekends, in which case the rental car companies lots are packed full with unused cars depreciating in the sun like walrus on the discovery channel. Endangered species?
And it’s only getting worse. America’s urban environments are changing faster than we realize. Over the next 25 years our urban centers will attract millions of new citizens, cramming in many more people on the same roads that were built in the 1950s. So how will we drive? How will we commute? How we live? It’s going to take more than a few cool gadgets in the car to solve that stuff.
Yeah cars can be dumb, but then Hayek invented the Smart Car back in the 80s and he didn’t set out to reinvent the car, he set out to reinvent the urban environment, working in concert with city governments, rental car companies, bike companies, scooter and train companies - all of who have a role in solving the big issue. StrawberryFrog helped launch Smart not as a car, not an isolated object, but rather part of a more complex ecosystem for renewal.
Urban sprawl enabled by the car has created, as James H Kunstler provocatively tells us, “places that are not worth caring about”. Hence our need to move (fender to fender) through these placeless-places in our hermetically sealed metal and glass boxes.
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These approaches suggest the “solution to the car” is perhaps not being able to upload the photo of the vehicle behind us to Facebook, but rather rethinking where we are going, why we might be going there, and where ‘where’ is anyway. In our haste to get from A to B, we have lost sight of questioning why A must be so far from B in the first place. And why so many letter-less non-places must lie in between.
To collectively get to this better future, we need a brand to crystallize those insights into a movement: big enough to make waves that energize people en mass: to make it happen. As per the Henry Ford quote raised by the Creative Insurgent: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”…in our modern context that becomes “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said fun and useful digital activities to do whilst I drive”. As the motorcar was to the horse, what now is the thing that takes that leap beyond the car, as we know it? For one thing we know: it’s not a car with more bells and whistles. For that is, at the end of the day, just a faster horse.